RESIDENTS claim an eyesore on Leith Walk faces another 18 months as a “drug den” unless developers sell up quickly.
Shrubhill House, the city’s former social work headquarters, has been plagued by antisocial behaviour since council staff moved out six years ago.
The Unite Group, the UK’s largest student accommodation company, bought the site for £6 million in 2007, but put plans to create 60 student flats on hold after scaling back developments outside of London.
Successive plans to attract hotels and student housing have failed, leaving the condemned building prone to vandalism.
Now planning bosses have been accused of “prolonging the agony” after granting developers a further 18 months to start work on the problem site.
Harald Tobermann, for Leith Central Community Council, compared its stricken state with a former war zone.
He said: “If you come to Leith, the first thing you see is a graffiti-covered, derelict concrete block.
“It reminds me of Beirut, there’s holes everywhere and it really seems like a third world territory.
“This decision will add to the feeling of disenchantment. They have sent out a half-baked signal to the development company. I am sure it will just carry on for 18 months like this and then we will do it all again. It’s a waste of 18 months.”
The site has been repeatedly subjected to vandalism, with reports of youths hurling concrete blocks from the roof and the theft of the huge metal security gates preventing troublemakers from entering the site.
However, the city council sub-committee heard there is now 24-hour security in place and better signage to report any problems.
The developers had applied for a three-year extension to the planning permission, but this was cut to 18 months by members of the sub-committee, which was keen to send out a message against land banking.
Leith Walk councillor Angela Blacklock, who voted against it, said the community had been left in limbo and called for the building to be demolished.
She said: “There’s people living in the building, people using it for drug taking and there’s a lot of criminal activity going on. We are spending millions on roads and pavements yet we have this massive eyesore in the middle of it.
“I understand the need for developers to have to make money from the site, but the ideal thing would be if the building could be demolished and the ground go to grass so it could be used by the community in the meantime.”
LCCC secretary Roland Reid said: “People are fed up with the situation in Leith Walk and this is prolonging the agony really. There will be a lot of disappointed people, but the fact we got it to 18 months should be seen as a partial success and shows they listened to our concerns.”